The Jewish Community In Buenos Aires

I have noticed something a bit odd about the Jewish community around here. They do not seem very welcoming to new people. This might be just the reform / conservative groups, as I will admit I have not had a chance to attend the orthodox services / events.

I have succeeded in attending both of the events / services I attempted to attend since I got here. But each time I had to fight to get in. I’ve never heard of or seen this before. Here are the stories. Maybe someone out there can explain this to me.

Event #1: Hillel Argentina Social Event
The first was a Hillel event at a local bar. The event started around 10pm and I showed up around 10:20. I even pre-registered on their website so that they would expect me. Having planned SCALE and other events I know how nice it is to get an estimate on the number of attendees. Anyways, when I arrived I was greeted by a “bouncer” at the door. He told me it was a private event and asked me to produce a membership card(?). Since when does Hillel require membership? When I explained I was from the US and in Argentina for work he didnt seem to believe me. He started quizing me on where I’m from in the states, asked me for ID, asked me what school I go to, etc. I didnt have ID so he wouldnt let me in. I just carry it around in Argentina, why let it get lost or stolen? Nobody has ever asked for it before. Anyways, I pulled out my necklace which has mezuzah on it and told him my name. He basically replied anyone can put that on and claim to be Jewish, “I need proof”. Proof? What the hell is he talking about? At the Hillel in UCSB anyone can show up, Jewish or not. The more the merrier. Who the hell would fight this hard with a bouncer for 20 minutes to get into a Hillel event? Its not like they were offering free dinner, they were just offering a location where you could meet other Jews and buy a drink. If they were smart they even arranged to get a cut of the register and used the money for future events.

Moving on, eventually he started quizing me on what holidays are coming up. My spanish isnt that great and I thought he said parties or something else and did not exactly understand. I thought he was asking me what other events was planning. Eventually I had to break into a rant in Hebrew about how I thought this was ridiculous before the guy actually let me in. So what it comes down I had to PROVE I was Jewish. What next? Should I whip it out and prove I am circumsized?

I realize every Hillel probably has its own rules, but the Hillel’s website states:

“Hillel’s mission is to maximize the number of Jews doing Jewish with other Jews. Hillel actively seeks to engage uninvolved Jewish students on their own terms: to provide them with opportunities to do Jewish that are meaningful and appealing to them. ”

So I am about as inactive as it gets in the Jewish community. I attend very few events, I almost never attend services. The one time I get the urge to hang out with other Jews and “do Jewish” things, they try and turn me away? They do not seem to be accomplishing their mission of “engaging uninvolved Jews” at this Hillel chapter.

Event #2: Yom Kipur
I did not intending to go to services this past weekend. After my experience at Hillel I was not really interested in going to any more Jewish services / events. I almost never go to services, but I promissed my parents I would “try” this year. I was not even planning on fasting. Anyways, a promiss a promiss. I fasted all Friday night / Saturday. I dragged myself out of the apartment and walked about 15 – 20 minutes to a temple I walked by a few weeks back.

When I arrived I looked around and saw people standing at each door, standard deal. A police car at each corner of the street. This is not anything special in Buenos Aires either. I see cops all over. But if they were there to protect the temple I appreciate it.

I walked up the door and was asked “What are you doing?” I replied in spanish I’m here for neilah. Just like at Hillel I was quized. BOUNCER #1 :”Who are you?” Me: “I’m a jew from the States I’m here for a few months” BOUNCER #1: “How long have you been here? A: “3 months or so” BOUNCER #1: “Have you ever been to services here?” A: “No.” BOUNCER #1: “What languages do you speak?” A: “HEBREW, English, and a little spanish. Do you speak hebrew my hebrew is better than my spanish? (i tried some hebrew but he didnt seem to understand). Well can I go in?” BOUNCER #1: “No you need to go to talk to that guy down the street.” Me: “Ok thanks”

I walked down the street and talked BOUNCER #2, who went through all the same questions again. Eventually he asked me for my ID. Luckly I thought to bring it this time. He looked it over multiple times. He asked me where I’m staying, how I found the place, why I’m here. After about 5 minutes of questions, he finally told me which rooms had which types of services and wished me a happy new year.

I dont understand any of this. I know that at Stephen Wise in LA they make you RSVP because they have way more members than space and there are fire codes, etc. But I’m almost positivie that even as flawed as their system is if I showed up saying I was from out of town and wanted to join services they would find something for me with out mulitple interviews.

Anyways, none of this really seems to jive with what I’ve always been told the Jewish community should be like and at this point I think I’m just going to give up on doing anything else Jewish here in Argentina.

5 Responses to “The Jewish Community In Buenos Aires”

  1. debinatlanta says:

    hi. i had a similar experience when i tried to attend services one friday night at the reform temple (forgot the name…the one with the museum). my understanding is that they are beng very cautious about who comes to events because they have been victimized by terrorism. they asked me similar questions: where was i from, what temple did i go to in the u.s., who was the rabbi…. the idea, i think isn’t really to find out the answers, but rather to find out if someone has no idea of the answers and is thus just posing as a jew to get into an event/temple/jcc and cause trauble.

  2. Elaine Stadfeld says:

    What jobs are available for a 21 year woman graduating from Emory Universtiy in Atlanta, Georgia In May 2007? I am a Spanish and political science major and I lived for 6 months in Buenos Aires.

  3. blah says:

    when temples and the jcc get bombed in a country, that will make people nervous. nothing personal… we just don´t like being attacked by terrorists… hope you understand.

  4. Gershon says:

    Sorry for such a late response.

    The US and Canada are rather laid back in comparison with most Jewish communities around the world (although this has probably changed somewhat during recent years).

    Latin America, the Middle East and Europe are actually the norm. They run on what is often referred to as the “kehila-model”, meaning that the community is a society within a society and often has rights to issue personal status certificates and determina marital status, etc. While they accept the occasional Jewish tourist who is just passing through, they are very careful with surprise visits. Jews who are in the country should ideally have a letter from their rabbi in the states (letter of introduction) and stop by and meet the rabbi of the shul they plan to attend (he may want to send an e-mail to check the person out). After that, things usually are pretty laid back and the guards get to know you.

    It can sound rather like a police state, but this is reality of being a chosen but hated people, even though those who hate us got most of the ideas for their own religions from us. What can I say…

  5. MininIsrael says:

    I am looking for the family of a great-uncle, Lazar Morel, who moved to Buenos Aires before World War II. I visited Buenos Aires. I found our Great-Uncle’s grave – I got a phone number from the organization that maintains the cemetery but they did not have any more information about his family – he died in 1967 – it is too long ago. He is buried with his wife – Maria – she died in 1971.
    I know he had at least one daughter named Hannah.
    Any suggestions on how to find them?

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